The Golf Channel is getting set to tee off its 10th anniversary next month, which will be marked by a revamped schedule, new graphics and birthday greetings from famous golfers of all handicaps-from Tiger Woods to President Bush.
Golf Channel President David Manougian said distribution of the Comcast-owned network has grown by 50 percent to 66 million subscribers over the past three years and that its ad revenue has doubled over that time period.
Early this year the network moved its instructional programming to its
Monday prime-time block and christened it Your Game Night. Mr. Manougian said the move pushed ratings up about 20 percent.
Next year the network plans to create theme nights on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. (The Golf Channel telecasts tournament play Thursday through Sunday.)
On Jan. 17-the actual anniversary date-the network will launch “Top Shelf Wednesday,” which will feature highlights from the channel and the world of golf in general. Sample titles include “Top 10 `Golf Talk’ Moments,” “Top 10 U.S. Open Moments,” and “Top 10 News Stories.”
In February Golf Channel will debut “Original Tuesday,” which will showcase its original programming.
The first piece of original programming to be featured will be the third season of “The Big Break,” in which golfers compete to qualify for pro tour events. This season, for the first time, the series features women golfers.
“The Big Break III: Ladies Only” is being sponsored by Anheuser-Busch, which has not been a major Golf Channel advertiser until now. In addition to spots, the giant brewer will get product placement: Anheuser-Busch title-sponsors the event the players will be competing to play in. Kingsmill, the golf course where “The Big Break” is being shot, is owned by Anheuser-Busch.
Mr. Manougian estimated the value of the sponsorship at more than $1 million, including promotion the show will get from Anheuser-Busch. Displays in 7-Eleven stores will drive consumers to the show and to a watch-and-win sweepstakes.
Mr. Manougian said the network plans to expand “The Big Break” franchise by creating editions that match up celebrities who would play for prizes. He sees one series featuring actors who play golf. Another could pit baseball players from one team against rivals from another team. Golf-playing politicians or CEOs might compete in other installments.
Mr. Manougian said the channel is also looking at other genres that might appeal to its golf-loving audience, from other forms of reality to game shows to movies featuring golf. The channel already has a makeover show in which amateur players get advice on their swing, clothes and attitudes.
This season the network will be the new home of the Champions Tour, which features pros age 50 and older.
The Golf Channel seems to be one of the few networks not overly concerned with reaching a younger demo. Its viewers tend to be well off, which has been attracting auto, financial services and luxury goods advertisers.
“I don’t go after an age or a demo. I go after people who play golf and enjoy the game. The age issue takes care of itself,” Mr. Manougian said.
The network will also adopt a new anniversary color scheme, adding silver and black accents to its blue-and-white palette.
The channel has been taping happy-anniversary messages from well-known golf enthusiasts from all walks of life. Among those already on tape are Mr. Woods, Steven Van Zandt of “The Sopranos” and Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, Ray Romano of “Everybody Loves Raymond,” Noah Wyle of “ER,” Donald Trump of “The Apprentice,” Darius Rucker of Hootie & the Blowfish and Kevin Costner, who starred in the golf film “Tin Cup.”
Mr. Manougian said the network also plans to improve the production of golf events. “We’ll do things that help the viewer feel the impact” of attending a match, he said.
To that end, the channel plans to move microphones closer to the action. It also plans to mike players, including Peter Jacobson, to give viewers a sense of “what it’s like to walk in the shoes of a tournament player.”